Looking back, there could have been worse places to experience sleeplessness. Just the name- Santorini- evokes the serenity of endless blue horizons and soft sea breezes. It was the perfect location for the wedding of two of my closest friends, which was to take place six days into the ten-day trip. The holiday stretched out before us, a time to relax, have fun and soak up the sights and the sun. It was fabulous! However, as the days progressed, internally, I was resisting a deepening abyss of exhaustion…
I had had the most exciting summer of parties, travel and adventure, but by this point, I was getting close to crashing. No matter how strong one is there has to be a physical, financial and mental point where one must take stock and recuperate. Mine was then, in Santorini. Rather cruelly timed, you might agree.
The mind ventures to dusty, hidden corners in the twilight of 4am when all around you are sleeping. Memories, song lyrics, ideas, all seem to infiltrate your mind at a time when what it crucially needs is rest. Two nights before the wedding, I hit a crisis point. I had tried pacing the hot room, listening to music, reading a book, drinking a glass of wine, writing thoughts down to empty my mind; anything in order to induce those elusive sleep hormones. Surely soon, I thought, my body is going to give in to exhaustion. But again, no.
The celebrated Santorini sunrise was beginning to flirt with the sky, a melting canvas of hazy pinks and blues and yellows rippling across the sparse morning clouds.
Eventually, I saw no other option but to take myself off to the bathroom and attempt to sleep there. Curled up, foetal position, at 5am, crying my eyes out in a cold and empty bath! I allowed myself to see the comical side of how pathetic I must have looked lying there, legs crooked upwards like a beetle. Pulling myself together, I dragged myself up and outdoors to see if the soothing sound of the lapping water of the pool would coax me into a much-craved slumber…
The celebrated Santorini sunrise was beginning to flirt with the sky, a melting canvas of hazy pinks and blues and yellows rippling across the sparse morning clouds, when suddenly, the aunt of the bride-to-be appeared looking concerned. I felt shame burning my tired and dry cheeks as I opened up and told her what was happening to me. She listened. She talked. She listened. And it helped. I then returned to my hotel room to catch two paltry hours of sleep.
Later that evening, we were toasting the newlyweds-to-be and enjoying a gorgeous final dinner before the big day. From sunrise to sunset, I had somehow made it shakily through the day. Within, I could not ignore the constant hum of palpitations beneath my ribs, the trembling hands, the burning eyes. Talk about painting on a smile. I brushed off every physical reminder and continued. Walked on, talked on, smiled on. Then.
I feel a strong, intense pride at looking at somebody who found themselves at the bottom of a well, unsure of how to gasp the air, but who climbed back out.
Midway through the meal, sitting in a hot and humid corner of the table, I suddenly saw flashing lights before my eyes and felt my chest tighten. I clutched at my lungs. Beads of cold sweat rolled down my back. Breath became short and shallow. “Let me out, let me out!” I cried, and my friends made way for me to gain space. The sleep deprivation had caused my body to cave in. One friend, who had experienced panic attacks in the past, knew exactly what to do. Cold wet cloths were slapped on the back of my neck and she talked me down into lucidity.
My roommate slept in another suite to ensure that I slept well for the wedding. I knew I had to be on form the next day, there was no other option. Six hours later and I awoke feeling as if I had slept for three days. Success! I knuckled down at a desk and finally finished that poem, and at the service I walked proudly to meet the bride and groom at the altar, perched on a stunning white cliffside with the breathtaking backdrop of the Aegean Sea. I was brimming with pride to read my words in tribute to them. The wedding was a success, and was the most glamorous, fun, beautiful and happy wedding I have attended.
Almost a year on, when I look at this photograph of myself from the evening before the wedding, the most difficult night, I feel a mixture of emotions: in my head I want to avoid noticing the fatigue etched across my face and the heavy eyelids. But in my stomach, I feel something else. I feel a strong, intense pride at looking at somebody who found themselves at the bottom of a well, unsure of how to gasp the air, but who climbed back out powered by sheer determination and drive, knowing that everything was going to be fine too.